Untapped Resource for the Admiralty (1860)

1860 - Unpublished MSS Journal Timber Trade

Shipbuilding Timber for Royal Navy in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Date: 1860

[Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1860-1861] - Unpublished manuscript fair journal of an expedition to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1860, with a brief tour to Albania in January 1861, by Thomas Laslett, a leading timber purveyor for the Royal Navy's Admiralty, seeking a further supply of oak for building large frigates and wooden battleships. Penned in 1881 "in a readable form" after retiring from active service, and drawing from this original journal. 8vo. 179 pages in manuscript, plus 3 single page preface signed by the author. Volume measures 18 x 22 cm. A fascinating account of the nineteenth century timber trade entering Turkey. This expedition was especially dangerous, taking place during the Herzegovina Uprising. Pressed for prolific supplies of timber for shipbuilding to maintain naval supremacy, and ultimately commercial advantage over competing nations, the Royal Navy dispatched their leading purveyor/inspector into an unsettled nation of civil turmoil - to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Serbian insurrection which had been ongoing since 1852. With notable diplomatic contacts to assist and influence his mission, and surely with handsome recompense, Laslett agrees to undertake the task of locating, inspecting, and securing untapped sources of high quality timber, therefore venturing into the unsettled and remote wilds of the Balkan Peninsula, where thieves and anarchists thrived. The instability of the nation, coupled with the challenges of travelling where foreigners are scarcely seen, results in a riveting travellogue, far more so than a survey report. Most often sleeping in the rudimentary Turkish inn of sorts, known as khan or a caravanserai, Laslett and his party frequently sleep in intervals, each rotating as a watchman due to the high numbers of vandals lurking about. Upon landing on the eastern Adriatic Sea coast in Croatia, by way of Makarska and Metkovic, Laslett proceeds to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina where he makes his arrangements. Here he receives warning of the precarious state of the country. Indeed he travelled in a dangerous time, during the Herzegovina Uprising, Luka Vukalovic and ethnic Serbs in the Herzegovina region waging a revolt against the Ottoman Empire which had declared that it would disarm the Serbs. From Mostar he ventures on horseback to cross the Dianric Alps, together with a guide and a party which included Turkish policemen for protection. Most prudently, always noting and assessing his surroundings and individuals in the vicinity, he makes his way as far as Banja Luka and Stari-Majdan. Turning back towards the coast, he visits Prijedor, Kozarac, Dirventa, Doboj, Tuzla, and Sarajevo, passing through innumerable modest rural villages along the way. Frequently these localities were harassed by bandits and errant transient sorts. Finally returning safely to Mostar, on the morning of his departure he learns of a public execution having just taken place. His return to England was via Metrovic and Croatia's walled city of Ragusa [now called Dubrovnik which means "oak grove"], then by steamer to Corfu, where he enquired about the possibility of inspecting oak timber in Albania. Here he also dined with Admiral Sir William Fanshawe Martin, Baronet, and Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. On 29 December 1860, while at Corfu, Laslett receives correspondence which motivates him to quickly make way for Durrazo [Durrës] in Albania. Alas, winter conditions, coupled with sparse habitation in the alpine forest regions, prohibited travel and inspection until a more favourable season. Intent on searching every region within his reach, he proceeded however to Austria to inspect the forests in the historic wine growing state of Styria, and returned to Croatia with the same objective. At Kotoriba, he travelled by railcar to Kaniza, making then a short drive to a forest on the grounds of the "King of the Belgians." The King's inspector gave him a tour of the sawmill which was used for timber for the estate only, and then essentially ushered him out of the forest. The volume concludes with a summary of the expedition and a two-page data chart of his timber survey. Excerpts from the manuscript: "in 1860 the Storekeeper General of the Navy finding the pressure for the supply of timber to the Royal Dockyards very great and ever increasing, considered it important... that even further sources should if possible be opened without delay." "I therefore took an early opportunity to call upon the Honorable R. [Robert] Dundas Storekeeper General of the Navy to receive his commands... Further I called upon the Hydrographer of the Admiralty... then... upon Sir William Hooker, the Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to ascertain from him any late reports extant upon the forests of Bosnia..." [Metkovic in Croatia] "... a letter from Mr. Holmes and also one from Mr. Zohrab informing me that owing to the critical state of the province it would be necessary to proceed with great caution with our work..." [James Ernest Napoleon Zohrab 1830-1891 was British Vice-Consul of Bosnia, stationed at Sarajevo, and best known for his report from Sarajevo in 1860 on treatment of Christians in the Ottoman Empire.] "... my task would prove to be a delicate one, if not one of considerable difficulty..." "... a rumour was current in town on the 21st that 54 Christians had been massacred by some Musselmen Turks at a village upon the Montenegroan frontier, and immediately after news came that Prince Daniel of Montenegro had been assassinated while walking on the Quay of Cattaro..." "... the whole of the Herzegovina was in an unsettled state, the people being only kept from open revolt by the presence of 4 Battalions of Turkish troops, at Mostar, and other 8 Battalions scattered in various provinces..." "A letter came to me from the Admiralty to inspect some oak timber in the Austrian dominions, which had been offered by Mr. Balfour the then contractor for the supply of Italian oak timber to the Navy." "... we should start from Mostar for [Mount] Liubaska...owing to the entire absence of roads, and the rough rocky track we had to travel over, the animals often finding it difficult to get sure footing... the heat being very oppressive... four hours more... brought us to Liubaska, a small town with a castle perched high upon a rock rising abruptly out of the general level of the township..." "From information picked up by people we met we learned that the forest had been cut over many years since and the timber taken away for the most part to Dalmatia for building purposes..." "Mr. Giracovitch went out upon the plain below us with his gun for a little shooting, and got insulted by some Turks he met with there. As he called for help, some of our men went to his assistance, the cavass [Turkish armed police officer] being amongst them... reaching the scene of the conflict he fired both his pistols and drew his sword... I rushed into the fray, joined in the scuffle, and the strangers were soon subdued. The cavass got hold of the principal offender... secured his hands behind his back... the bound man we marched to our camp... threatening to take him with us to Drinovya [Drinovci]... We kept him until we were ready to leave the place. He was then set free with a caution not to give any further trouble... he cried lustily all the time we had him at our mercy." "... when in the vicinity of Stolatz [Stolac] met with a paved footway or Bridle path road which I understood ran from that town to Buna [Blagaj?]..." "Mostar... the Turks... followed me about... staring with apparent astonishment at my style and costume being unlike their own... The bazaar which was a very good one, and where a great business seemed always going on... had fewer of my visits than it would otherwise had done. The suburban part of the town of Mostar had a bad reputation, and I was advised that it would be hardly prudent to venture there... At the foot of the bridge upon the right bank is the prison... large barracks for the troops of the Sultan..." "From Mostar to Seraijevo... 13 September 1860... with me one Zaptic [Turkish police officer] and two other attendants to manage the horses, and look after the baggage &c. This small escort the Dragoman of the British Vice Consulate said he considered would be sufficient as the road or track was guarded by Armed Policemen... over the most dangerous ground if not the entire distance." "... to Porina at the foot of the mountain range which here forms part of the Dinaric Alps... the track very steep... 8 hours counting from the time we left Porina, we halted at the Khan of Boreka [a caravanserai or Turkish inn]..." "On the 17th... From Illeja [Ilijas] we found a fairly good road to Seraijeva [Sarajevo]... I went at once to the British Consulate to call upon Mr. Holmes... relating all incidents of the journey... all matters connected with the inspection of the forests in the Herzegovina... he felt sure they were very extensive." "... we left Travonik to resume our journey, travelling for about 3 hours only, and then stopping at Carola... At the Khan we got a room to ourselves, clean and tidy, but bare of furniture as usual... we discovered these and worse characters. We were advised to be watchful over our baggage and to take care of ourselves at night... we agree to sleep by turns..." "Jaicre [Jajce] was formerly a walled city and strongly fortified place, but at the time of my visit, it was in a sadly dilapidated condition, and almost in ruins." "... the town of Baniluka [Banja Luka], a place of considerable size, with many mosques, baths, khans, &c.... we had a wish to call upon the Kaimacan [a provincial Turkish governor] to acquaint him with the object of our visit to the place, and to seek for information about the forests in the district.... he received us with great politeness... shewed him the letter from the Pasha of Seraijevo, which he read with interest, and said he would help us as far as lay in his power, but... near Baniluka [Banja Luka]... he thought most of the fine oak trees had been cut down...he would find us a good Zaptic guide, who would take us through any part of Croatia..." "... we were getting into a wild piece of country... some 3 or 4 miserable looking huts which served for the people employed there in something of iron ore..." "... rode in to Stari-Majdan, a small town... where we rested well... in about an hour came to a forest of oaks, which occupied our attention for a considerable time, meeting with many good trees... it stretched towards the rivers Save and Sanna..." "Leaving the forest... saw in the distance some 3 or 4 or perhaps half a dozen huts that we took to be the homes of the shepherds... a very poor place... it was getting dark with no village near... we had to be content to share with a man and his wife, two tall girls and two small children a single room, while the cow occupied one side of it... All therefore we attempted to do, was to sit or lounge round the fire in the centre, not liking to undress, for fear our revolvers if laid aside, would not be safe..." "... proceed to Bihach [Bihac]... The Kaimacan ordered coffee and pipes as customary and entered quite freely and fully into our business, sent for several men... We also endeavoured to learn whether if any useful timber were found in the district, it could be taken from thence through Dalmatia to the Adriatic... they were very clear upon the point that it would be impracticable..." "Bihach [Bihac]... This place had also been formerly fortified, but at the time of my visit was almost in ruins... The Mudir having heard that strangers had arrived at the Khan, came to see us... he would find a guide to take us to Novi... to get to the forests." "We left Krupa [Bosanska Krupa] under direction of our new guide; and almost immediately after starting found that we had to cross the river Unna [Una] by a rickety and dilapitated bridge... " "... After about 3 hours we came to Priedor [Prijedor], a busy market town..." "We went at once to call upon the Bey... gave us a good dinner... the Mudir of Kozoratz [Kozarac]... they said the country thereabouts was infested with Brigands, and that some 12 or 15 in number were known to be lurking in the neighbourhood. These fellows had been hunted by the Police, and they had fired upon them, wounding some of the staff..." "We had consulted the Mudir about the journey, and he said the place had a very bad reputation, he advised 4 additional zaptics and said he would go a short distance with us..." "The weather was intensely cold, there was about 3 inches of snow upon the ground... before long as we got higher up beyond the range of the oaks, we came upon pine trees in considerable quantities, and saw that they covered all the most elevated ridges... magnificent dimensions, and being mature were fit for constructive purposes. There was no sign anywhere that any of these fine trees had been worked as articles of commerce... and for a long way up the slopes, oak trees were abundant." "Our guides now said that they knew of a ruined and dilapitated monastery where we might get shelter for the night... 15th October. The rooms of the old mastery were anything but comfortable, though fairly weather proof..." "At Gradiska we therefore hired a couple of waggons... to get a little relief from riding on horseback..." "... we arrived at Banaluka [Banja Luka]... a Frenchman had cut down some millions of trees for staves for casks at the place we mentioned..." "... we took an Easterly course for the mountains... in the direction of Perniavor [Prnjavor]... the guide said the forest was beyond... sure enough we were soon in a most luxuriant forest of oaks... We inspected this thoroughly... and saw everywhere an abundance of fine oak trees of the same description as those we saw in Turkish Croatia..." "... came to the village of Zorstella, and here our men wished to stay for breakfast... endeavoured to treat with the inhabitants for such food as they had to spare... all the men belonging to the place had gone to the fields, or were away upon the mountains looking after their flocks, consequently there were only the women and children remaining, and these not being Christians, but Mahomedans, were scared and hid themselves..." "... a rugged and difficult mountain to climb, fog came on, and soon some snow fell... a little apprehensive that we might lose our way... found a good sized Khan solitarily situated and placed there for the especial benefit of travellers, who like ourselves could not reach the next village before dark... the most motley race of Bosnians, Serbians, Austrians, and others... merchants, drovers and I know not what, gathering round a central fire... We were only too glad after riding for 9 hours to get in and share the floor with them." "5th November... near to Seraijevo, and back to our starting place, after an absence of 41 days... a long tedious and trying journey... much fatigue... hardships from occasional deficiency of food, bad lodging, ill health..." "This wintry weather setting in upset my plans and prevented me getting from Seraijevo into Macedonia and Albania... I therefore completely abandoned it, and arranged to take the alternative route... over the mountains back to Mostar." "23rd November... at about 7 pm we rode into Mostar... reached Mr. Zohrabs' H.B.M. Vice Consul... kindly offered a bed... Next morning at break of day and before I was up, there was an execution by decapitation of a man, for the murder of a peasant, this took place in the open street, not far from Mr. Zohrabs house. The wife and sister of the peasant were there to witness the execution in conformity with the law of the country which required them to be present... The man's head was taken away immediately by the officials, but the body was left exposed upon the road for some time after..." "The Herzegovina, in the opinion of Mr. Zohrab, was at this time in a very disturbed state and he considered that the people in many villages lying between Mostar and Montenegro were in little better than a state of revolt against the government. The quarrels between the Mahomedan and Christian villages were also common enough... government unable to keep order." "29th December... I thought I should move without further delay for Durrazo [Durrës] ... engaged Giovanni Casciotte as Dragoman... arrived at 3 pm on the last day of the year." "1st January 1861... As had been arranged yesterday the Austrian Consul and myself went to call upon the Mudir... to learn from him what assistance he could give me if I set out from Durazzo [Durrës] to visit the forests... men came in... they said the oak forests were at the source of the river Frande, a tributary of the river Mattai [Mat]... the forests belonged to a Greek Bishop who was living at Debrimisti, near Tomo in the Tirani [Tirana]..." "The Mudir's men said a Salvador Alessandria Fernandez of Malta had cut down some 7000-8000 oak trees there... said there were oak forests near the Lake of Okrina, but that it would be extremely difficult to get them down from there to the coast... walls of rock... abrupt precipices... " "As to getting to any of these forests at the present time the men considered it to be next to impracticable, the plains being covered with water, and the mountains with snow; further they said there was no shelter to be had, for the villages were few and far between, and anyone attempting the journey would be likely to perish from exposure... to defer the visit to a more favourable opportunity." "At this interview with the Mudir it was mentioned that in 1813 the French Govenment were taking oak timber from Albania for the construction of their fleet, but that for some reason they did not continue to draw long from that source. Also that Mehemet Ali a few years since had drawn supplies of oak timber from Albania, to build his ships at Alexandria." "6th January. Having regard to the advice given to me not to attempt to get into the Albania forests, and the weather being bad, I gave up the idea of travelling inland... " End Excerpts. Thomas Laslett (1811-1887), Timber Inspector for the Admiralty, began his career as a Purveyor of Timber at the age of 22, his first four expeditions seeing him to New Zealand to procure high-quality timber suitable for mast and spars for large Royal Navy ships, which required him to penetrate sometimes hostile tribal regions. Laslett was born at Poplar, Middlesex on 18 June 1811 and was baptised at the East India Dock Chapel there. He was the eldest child of Thomas Laslett, a shipwright, and as such had begun apprenticing as a shipwright before being presented with the opportunity to work abroad. Indeed having found his calling and impressed the Admiralty, he was sent on three further missions to remote places with important timber stocks. As Timber Inspector for the Admiralty, from 1847 to 1849 he was commissioned to inspect teak in Burma, mainly Moulmein (Mawlamyine) and environs. He was employed to survey and report upon some forests near Russia in Asia Minor, and in 1859 made an expedition to the Anatolian Highlands around Bursa in Turkey during the period of Ottoman reign. An expedition took him through Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1860 (then the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia Vilayet and Vilayet of Kosovo). These latter two expeditions, again to little-known remote regions, were undertaken in hopes of locating untapped sources of high-quality oak. Settling near home, he was Timber Inspector of Woolwich Dockyard until 1869 and for many years later Timber Inspector for the Admiralty. In 1875 Laslett published a book titled "Timber and Timber Trees: Native and Foreign". He retired from active service in April 1880 and was subsequently employed by the Admiralty to make special surveys of timber on various occasions at home and abroad. He was also commissioned by the Society of Arts to report on timber exhibited in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition at London in 1886. He suffered a heart attack and died the at Woolwich Dockyard Railway Station on 6 April 1887. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long tradition in forestry and wood processing, going back to the second half of the 19th century. Over fifty percent of the country is covered in forests, which today that serve both the furniture and the construction industries. Beech, oak, ash, pine and fir, as well as more specialized woods such as walnut, apple and cherry, are exported as raw material, half fabricates and finished products. [With enhanced economic and military power, both France and Great Britain were increasing seaborne commerce, piracy, and political authority in Mediterannean regions. To remain effective however, naval supremacy was paramount. Until the 1860s, power rested on ample supplies of skilled seamen, suitable timber, iron, and sundry stores. Timber supply shortages had been a concern for a century by this time, and forests around the globe were being exhausted faster than they could recover. Large ships constructed for strength required 100 year old stout oak for framing, and oak grown in isolation for knee supports to the hull. The Mediterranean had good quality oak, suitable for the job. Both French and English agents scoured the region to secure their supply, and ultimately their naval and commercial power. While a sea-borne transportation revolution was imminent, steam power soon to replace wind navigation at the turn of the century, during the 1860s, sailing vessels still surpassed steam vessels by large numbers.]

Boards marked by other papers, otherwise volume in Very Good Condition, internally bright.


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